by David Simon

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How does race affect the Baltimore Police Department's response to violent crime in Homicide?

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Race serves as one of the prevailing themes in Homicide by David Simon. It affects not only police and community relationships in Baltimore but also politics.

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While crime and policing serve as the main subjects of Homicide, the issue of race underlies much of the material.

Like many major Eastern cities, Baltimore saw in the late twentieth century a series of demographic changes that overturned the old white Anglo-Saxon Protestant power structure. First, Irish and Italian immigrants and their descendants enjoyed political power. By the 1970s and 80s, however, minority voters formed blocs powerful enough to elect their own into council and mayoral positions.

Politics served as a backdrop for policing and its role in the Baltimore community.

Simon described most of the Baltimore Police as racist, even the younger ones. One exception was the "gruff, paternalistic" Donald Worden, who earned the respect of all through fair and respectful treatment of everyone with whom he came into contact. That said, however, most cops saw the Black community's criminals collectively as nameless, faceless "yos." The community returned that disrespect with silence when police came to their area to investigate crimes.

Only a detective like Worden, who saw all as individuals from the beginning, earned help from any ethnic or interest group. Most had to work uphill against a community that disliked their presence. This inhibited their ability to effectively work an investigation of even a violent crime.

Race does not explain all of the Baltimore Police's prejudice, however. Simon notes that residents of "Billyland," midcentury migrants from West Virginia, get as much contempt as Black citizens in other neighborhoods. "If nothing else," Simon recalls, "this attitude provides some proof that it is class consciousness, more than racism, that propels a cop toward a contempt for the huddled masses."

The main difference between the two communities lies in the fact that "Billies talk," meaning that investigations in those neighborhoods provide a wealth of information.

Simon also notes that police racism rarely, if ever, includes their Black middle-class colleagues. For them the color blue matters more than any other.

That said, the chasm between the Black community and the police in Baltimore goes beyond fear and contempt. It makes the police's job of enforcing law and keeping order much more difficult—and dangerous for all parties—than it otherwise should be.

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